Law and Order. These are three words Americans hear whenever the status quo feels threatened of a certain faction of society. We hear it know through an administration that consistently insights separatism amongst races and our ancestors heard it through every single century in America, especially during The Civil Rights Movement.
The fabric of American history has been swirled around the threat of the Black man and the more educated and outspoken – the more dangerous they are perceived. At least this is the ideology that was justified by the FBI for doggedly pursuing Martin Luther King, Jr. with wiretaps and surveillance.
Sam Pollard has never stood in the shadows with the documentary filmmaking when it comes to calling out the status quo. He didn’t do it with Eyes On The Prize. He didn’t do it with Atlanta’s Missing and Murdered: The Lost Children and certainly holds no punches with MLK/FBI.
MLK/FBI examines J. Edgar Hoover’s relentless campaign of surveillance and harassment against Martin Luther King, Jr. when US agents targeted him as a villain calling him nicknames like Martin ‘Lucifer’ King.
Inspired by the work of historian David Garrow, the film uses declassified files to study the FBI’s motives and methods. Herbert Hoover (whose tenure lasted 48 years) saw the movement as a communist plot and encouraged the bureau to undermine King through wiretapping and blackmail, in what former FBI director James Comey calls “the darkest part of the bureau’s history.”
Pollard has been immersed in US racial politics for decades, from his collaborations with Henry Hampton and Spike Lee to his own documentaries. His mastery of archival footage to draw upon eclectic sources, from newsreels to Hollywood secret-agent movies, visuals rooted in the ’50s and ’60s, overlaid with contemporary audio interviews from multiple perspectives, including King’s colleagues Andrew Young and Clarence B. Jones are the intricate details that put his documentary filmmaking a notch above the rest. This was by far one of his best that I have seen and I have seen them all. Who knew Ernest C. Withers (photographer and FBI informant) and James Harrison (paid FBI informant at SCLC) were brotha’s were contributed to the downfall and harassment of Dr. King
The FBI wiretaps alleging King’s non-monogamous relationships with over 40 women, used to humiliate and break his spirit questions how historians should treat such nefarious recordings including one that King looked on as a female parishioner was sexually assaulted by a fellow clergyman. Was this reality or altered tapes to be used as a tool with a grand narrative to undermine the Civil Rights movement and King’s rapidly growing global popularity.
At the age of 39, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assasintated. Herbert Hoover’s FBI reign lasted 48 years. In 2020, the fruits of the Civil Right movement live on in a new wave of protests and pushback through Black Lives Matter solidifying that his life and existence was not in vain. MLK/FBI is a must see for it is a film that crucially connects the past to the present illustrating that history can and will repeat itself if not rectified.
In 1977, A Federal judge ordered the FBI to turn over tapes produced in surveillance of Big to the National archives, w here they were placed under seal. The earliest they can be released in February 2027.
Do we need or want to hear these tapes? Are they necessary? Will they tarnish King’s image or undo the movement? In my humble opinion, nothing will reverse the movement. The fact that I am able to write this article as Black woman journalist/critic in America is proof. As far as his image is concerned, every human is fallible and imperfect with a life to live however we see fit. What we do with that life is up to us. What is your legacy and what do you leave behind is the question and answers we should be concerned with. Not malice or gossip for a life that has enriched an entire race,
Oh Freedom Over Me…
There’ll be Singing Over Me
And Before I’ll Be A Slave
I’ll Be Buried In My Grave
And Go Home To My Lord and Be Free